To the editor:
Once again, Essex County has benefited from the hard work and perseverance of its volunteer forces as seen during the cataclysmic visit of Hurricane Irene. Make no mistake, even worse damage, losses, and yes, even loss of lives would have occurred was it not for the leadership and participation of our volunteer fire departments, volunteer citizens, and public service employees, all working in concert with the town road crews. While Essex is considered a “poorer” county by many, these volunteers showed just how rich we are. The number of paid employees in county towns is sparse at best, so the arrival of volunteers and their leadership in many cases is beyond commendation. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so many owed so much to so few.
Not surprisingly, while Essex County towns had emergency action plans, a retrospective examination of actions taken through the “Irene days” revealed one constant voluntary leadership.
For example, in the town of Essex, we were most fortunate to have had an experienced leadership group such as Deputy Town Supervisor Mark Wrisley, Frank Walls, Ron Jackson, Road Commissioner Jim Morgan and Fire District #2 Chief Kyle Wrisley stepping up and planning activity before Irene arrived. Acting in concert and using a team decision-making approach, these men, along with volunteer firemen and women, not only preplanned needed action but were on continuous duty from the outset of the storm and into its aftermath. They visited and evacuated homeowners, arranged ambulance services, pumped out uncountable flooded buildings, whilst the town road employees opened roads. These and other volunteers remained continuously active for over 40-plus consecutive hours.
While disastrous home losses in the town of Essex occurred only in the Whallonsburg area, the entire township joined to provide help. Typical of services provided after Irene was the Essex Methodist Church immediately provided hot meals and supporting service functions which is now being supplemented by St. John’s Episcopal Church; the Essex Renew shop is providing funds and materials; Essex Initiatives made fund contributions; and our Whallonsburg Civic Association, in addition to providing use of its Grange Hall, conducted a hugely successful fundraising event. Additionally, the Essex Community Fund is beginning a fundraising drive.
I am absolutely positive that such townwide volunteer support, leadership and service were replicated throughout the county. We are proud of the way Essex responded to “Irene.” It’s not the first (or last) time we were recipients of Essex County’s eminent resource — its people.
Dr. James R. LaForest, Essex Town Board Member, Whallonsburg